Hong Kong can play a key role in China's one belt, one road plan

Song Zhe says with its geographical advantages, international standards and large talent pool, the special administrative region is well placed to contribute to and share the benefits of China's initiative to foster global peace and development

PUBLISHED : Monday, 20 April, 2015, 5:44pm
UPDATED : Monday, 20 April, 2015, 5:44pm

China's one belt, one road initiative, described by Foreign Minister Wang Yi as the focus of China's diplomacy this year, is becoming a hot topic in the international community,

It has been over a year since President Xi Jinping put forward the idea to jointly build a silk road economic belt and a 21st-century maritime silk road, during his visit to Central Asia and Southeast Asia in September and October 2013. The recent unveiling of the vision and action plan by the Chinese government has added details to the blueprint.

The initiative comes as the world undergoes profound and complex changes. The underlying impact of the international financial crisis is still being felt. The world economy is recovering slowly, with mixed performances among economies. Major adjustments in the rules and landscape of international trade and investment are in the making. Countries still face big challenges. The belt and road initiative, in the face of all this, aims to find new models of international cooperation and global governance and help foster world peace and development.

As its name implies, the belt and road initiative covers two major routes. The "belt" is oriented towards the land; the "road" towards the sea. The two connect the vibrant East Asian economic circle at one end with the developed European economic circle at the other, encompassing a large region with huge growth potential. More than 60 countries have already expressed a willingness to be part of the initiative. Once completed, it will enable around four billion people to live in harmony and prosperity as members of a community of shared destiny.

It is incorrect to call the initiative "China's Marshall Plan"; for one, it is much older - the Silk Road has a history going back over 2,000 years and has been used by the peoples of many countries for friendly exchange. It is also younger - it was born in the era of globalisation and stands for win-win cooperation. To use a musical metaphor, the initiative is a symphony, not China's solo. All participants may join in the performance and benefit from it. The initiative involves concrete action, not empty slogans. A host of important projects have already been launched under its framework. The Silk Road Fund has been set up and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank is poised to take off.

China is willing to work with countries to steadily advance showcase projects, identify programmes that accommodate bilateral and multilateral interests, and accelerate the launch of agreed programmes that are ready for implementation, to ensure an early harvest. In building the belt and road, we don't need to develop new methods of cooperation to replace existing ones. We can build on what has been achieved, to encourage countries to coordinate their development strategies.

It is important to note that five basic norms are being observed in building the belt and road: First, the purposes and principles of the UN Charter and the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence. Second, openness in cooperation. Any country or organisation willing to take part will not be turned away. The fruits of the concerted efforts may benefit even wider areas. Third, harmony and inclusiveness. Despite differences in culture and levels of development, participating countries will seek common ground, drawing on each other's strengths and coexisting in harmony.

Fourth, market operation. The initiative is aimed at promoting orderly and free flow of economic factors, efficient allocation of resources and deep integration of markets. Fifth, mutual benefit. The initiative should be jointly built through consultations to meet the interests of all; it seeks a conjunction of interests and gives full play to the strength and potential of all parties.

Given the extensive coverage of the initiative, five areas have been identified as cooperation priorities. First is policy co-ordination. Only when a consensus on cooperation is achieved among governments through greater mutual trust can more be achieved with less.

Second is connectivity. As a Chinese saying goes, "One has to build roads first in order to build a fortune". Building infrastructure is a priority area that will guarantee the success of the initiative.

Third is trade flow. Countries should remove trade barriers and jointly discuss the opening of free trade areas to unleash the cooperation potential.

Fourth is financial integration. Funding is an important underpinning for the numerous construction projects under the initiative. Financial cooperation has to be deepened.

Fifth is the people-to-people bond. A bond between peoples provides the public support for implementing the initiative. Ultimately, the belt and road will increase peoples' welfare and promote heart-to-heart communication.

The belt and road belongs to China and the world as a whole. It definitely belongs to Hong Kong as well. As the local media has said, the belt and road is like opportunities falling from the sky for Hong Kong. The SAR is blessed with four advantages in the face of the initiative. It enjoys a sound geographic location, as it serves as an important pivot on the Maritime Silk Road, connecting the mainland with Southeast Asia. Hong Kong is an international financial, trade and shipping centre, as well as an offshore centre of renminbi business.

It can provide what the belt and road initiative is in great need of. Hong Kong has a great talent pool. Its professionals, who have good knowledge of international laws and rules, and high English proficiency, can help greatly in implementing the initiative.

In addition, Hong Kong is home to the Asia-Pacific headquarters of many multinationals. It will play the role of a bridge as its legal system, market rules and managerial expertise are up to international standards.

The opportunities, if missed, cannot be retrieved. There is a lot Hong Kong can do. Through active participation, Hong Kong can not only contribute to the success of the national initiative but also share in the dividends brought by Asia's new round of integrated development. It will write a new chapter in its own development.

Song Zhe is the commissioner of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People's Republic of China in the Hong Kong SAR